This is the advice I keep giving my friends and family.
If every piece of good news caused me to cry with joy…and if every piece of bad news caused me to cry with grief – I wouldn’t be able to cope as well as I do.
Exhibit A: This week, I was scheduled to get a Groshon catheter placed in my chest on Monday and then be admitted to the hospital on Tuesday. However, looming over all of this was my PET scan results from a week ago.
The scan showed some kind of small, vague PET activity in my chest. My oncologist ordered a CT scan the next day so the UCLA oncology team could take a closer look and see if this was something to be concerned about. They held their weekly meeting Monday morning and decided to review all of my PET/CT scans from this past summer in order to make a determination of whether to a) proceed with stem cell treatment or b) order a biopsy to try to figure out what these hotspots might be.
All of this adds up to no catheter and no treatment for me today.
Yes, this process is full of frustration and worry and anxiety and “two steps forward/one step back”. City of Hope believes that I should go into transplant immediately, regardless of the small activity. But UCLA wants to make sure I am in as complete remission as possible before beginning the process.
So what are my options?
Do I obstruct UCLA’s attempt to be thorough? Do I cry and worry and shut down? Do I continue to put one foot in front of the other, take a deep breath and practice patience? Do I turn to City of Hope and undergo my treatment there?
I was once told I have cancer. But, it was the “good kind” of cancer. Then I was told that the 80% effective treatment didn’t work for me. Then I was in remission. Then not. I suffered through 3 weeks trapped in a hospital room. I’ve had the chills so bad I thought my teeth would shatter. I’ve been poked and prodded, injected, poisoned, irradiated, hugged, cried over, prayed for, supported and insulted, knocked out, knocked down and picked up. I was present when two of my dearest friends got married to each other. And I was in the hospital when another two of my dearest friends got married. I’ve looked in the mirror and not recognized myself. I’ve apologized to my wife many times for being sick. I had a nervous breakdown. I’m pulling a 4.0 in grad school. I’ve laid my best friend to rest. I’ve held my friends’ newborn babies. I experienced loving kindness from a group of strangers like I never believed existed. Yesterday, a nurse gave me a hug and I cried.
What is the appropriate reaction when you are told that the life threatening procedure that might be your last chance at survival has been postponed?
For me – I went out to a lovely steak dinner with my wife and brother.
In all this, my brother donated his stem cells on Monday morning and filled up the bag in one session. Whenever I’m approved for the treatment, his stem cells are tagged, bagged and ready to go. One step forward.
He deserves a special shout-out. He handled the tests, physical, shots and pheresis procedure like a champion and I’m extremely grateful for his dedication, patience and perseverance. For a guy who is a bit scared of needles (and who isn’t?), he sure didn’t act like it. He never complained once. He took time away from his family and work to travel half-way around the world, eat hamburgers, watch some American TV and – oh yeah – give me the cells I need to stay alive. If anyone finds a Hallmark card for that, please let me know, because I don’t have the words.
Any medical procedure – even a voluntary stem cell donation – causes a person to reflect upon their own mortality in some way. I hope he goes away from this experience appreciating the fragility of life a little more. And I hope he feels proud of what he’s done for me. It has been a joy to have him visit, to see his family every morning on Skype and to get to know my brother a little bit better.
For now, I’m off the SGN-35 and I’ll let you know as soon as I know what’s going on with me. This should just be a minor hiccup in the process of getting through an allogeneic stem cell treatment. But we shall see.